Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What goes up must go down!

Hola, buen dia! So after riding high for some time now, I was bound to be grounded again. It seems that this is always true in this trip & in life, you can't stay high forever. This trip is always like a roller coaster ride but has mainly been me at the top just enjoying the adrenaline and fun. I've been gone almost 11 months now and it's pretty crazy to think that I haven't had many bad things happen to me, specifically haven't been robbed (not including payoffs to cops, military & customs). But the thing is with good times or bad times is how you react to it and feel about it is just something in your head. So my trip started from Colombia and deciding I would go to Venezuela and spend maybe a week or so there. I had a friend flying into Caracas so I had a mission to get myself there so we could then go out & travel. I started off leaving San Gil Colombia which was hard to leave with all the fun adventure activities to be had & nice people. So I waited until the last possible minute to get on a bus to the border which was supposed to be 7 hours long & then cross into Venezuela via collectivo and then get on an overnight bus to Caracas which would have been another 14 hours on the bus. So I left in the morning and the 7 hour bus ride through crazy switchbacks in the Andes & an even crazier bus driver somehow managed to take 10 hours. Which landed me at the border at around 9pm and from what I read the last bus left at 7pm. Sooo my backup plan is to just get a hostel room and go a day late. Border towns are hectic & hot around here when I get out a guy tells me there is another bus at another town further away & that he could take me there. I wasn't sure about the money exchange situation and I heard some about what happens in Venezuela with US dollars but I didn't have any US dollars. So I was changing money & not fully aware of all the scamming going on & so I wasn't moving or deciding fast. The rates I was getting made the taxi ride & bus far seem really expensive compared to any other latin country. But I wanted to get to this bus & just arrive rather than dealing with the alternative so I changed my money & took this taxi guys word on this bus. "Confiame, te ayudo" is what kept coming out of my taxi drivers mouth when talking about the bus in the town an hour away. Then he stopped to pee on the side of the room & went into the store & came back with a 6 pack of beer to accompany him for the ride. Night time, switch back mountain roads & beer are a good mix. Getting into Venezuela was an immediate change from Colombia, it was almost like crossing into northern Baja from San Diego. Venezuela is immediately in your face & the border patrols are giving me strange looks & suspicious questions to why in the world would I be in Venezuela. Apparently the political climate is fairly hot towards the USA. But they give me the stamp in & I'm back in the car with the driver & on my way to survive this ride & get on this bus. We show up at 11pm, he still repeating the line above as he sees my doubts and then he drops me off outside of the bus terminal. I've over paid for the ride & run off to catch the "bus" that wasn't there & the night guards at the bus terminal let me know that there hadn't been a bus here for a while. And now I'm standing in the street, taxi gone, after 11pm in Venezuela with my 2 back packs and not in a friendly neighborhood. And because of some of the money exchange debacle at the border, I didn't get much money and though I had enough to get my taxi ride & bus ticket with a few Bolivares left over for some food & then I'd get more money in Caracas. Well the taxi from the bus station charges me a bit because it's late & he knows I'm stranded and then I get to the hotel & I don't have enough money to stay there. So I opt to search for an ATM. There is one near by & in all latin countries I have had no problem pulling out money from an ATM however this one has an additional question about a number I don't know what it's talking about & I can't get money. meanwhile it's midnight, everyone (taxi, hotel guy) has said it's "peligrosisimo" here....really dangerous. And I have a drunk guy trying to get too close to my transaction because his bank card isn't working either. I flag down a cab & ask him to take to another atm, it's just getting later & I just want to get in a room & call it a day. But we go to 5 different ATM's before I am able to get out money. The cabbie came up to help and tried to check out my PIN number & then attempted to "hang on" to my card. I got that back & got back to the hotel which was way overpriced for my exchange rate & now the cabbie wants way to much money because he's taken me around & now seen me with a pocket full of money. He also offers me a hooker or brothel he can take me to. I fight away from another bad deal, frustrated & get to sleep. The next day I can't seem to get anything done right, finding internet to give Andrea & heads up that I wouldn't be at the hostel I said I'd be at proved to be tough to find. Even though I was in a big city. And the friendliness was just not there, asking people for help just wasn't like it's been in all the spots I've been in. So I find a bus to Caracas which will get me there early on Thanksgiving morning. It's a doubledecker bus, nice seats, too much A/C and horrible C grade movies in Spanish. All is fine, I'm sleeping and then we're woken up & told everyone off the bus with your ID. No problem, I'm off & as soon as the military see my USA passport then tell me to get my things from below the bus & go to this trailer. Everyone else gets to get back on & wait for me. I'm brought into a private trailer room & made to first declare how much money in each denomination I have and then pull all of it out & put it for him to count. Stern questioning about what I'm doing in Venezuela, what drugs I have or do, and again what money I'm carrying. I'm then made to strip completely nude so he can assure I have no drugs & then pull everything out of my bags "rapido" onto the floor. Suspicious about me because I have no job yet am traveling, the money doesn't add up. But he let me go eventually & I don't know what or if he took some money but I got away. The bus had been waiting, everyone is staring on my return as I'm the only gringo on the bus and we're off. I sleep, restless with bad dreams and awake to Caracas at 6am. Thanksgiving morning. I decide I'm going to try to find the subway & figure that system out rather than drop more money I don't really have on a taxi ride. So I trudge my things out of the bus terminal, hit the streets ask some unfriendly people where the metro is and eventually find it. It's clean & simple to figure out, I have one change to make & I'm there. The first ride is tough as I have a big pack on my back & a smaller one on the front and the car is jammed full so I'm having to bump everyone to get in & out. I get out, find my transfer and wait in a somewhat orderly line to load and this time I have one back in my hand & the other on. I guess my good luck, comfort in these foreign nations or laziness all kicked in because I felt my wallet in my pocket & thought about the fact that I normally wear my shorts with zippers to close the pockets but this time I wasn't. I'm off 2 long sleepless days of traveling by bus, 23 hours worth of bus time. I do nothing, the door to the train opens, people pile out, a guy grabs my bag to yank it on, I pull back & get pushed around jump on and that guy jumps off. The door shuts, I know right away. my wallet has been picked. So mad at myself at this point. My drivers license, my ATM card, credit card & cash. Not that much cash really but the ATM card & a drivers license are both essential for my trip. Stunned angry at being gotten by that action & then the train ride is over. I find my way to the hostel where my Austrian amiga has already landed and begin calling bank institutions and such. We decide we'll give Venezuela a shot even though it is so far really expensive and my day had been pretty crappy. We catch a bus to a town near the Caribbean and a national park, plan on taking another bus in the morning. However after getting a cab ride to town, we walk around with our back packs to no avail at finding even a remotely affordable place to stay & we're walking, at dark, in a sketchy neighborhood where everyone is just staring at us. Then the rain comes, we still have no place to stay. After some attempts at using the public pay phone to call the bus line & find out about buses to the border of Colombia we just decide to head back to the bus station & hope for a bus. There was a bus, we were just about out of local currency so we sat & ate our crackers and avocado while waiting for another bus. I had some time to reflect on what thanksgiving would have been like at home and for sure missed the idea of spending that time with loved ones & their amazing food! However bad my day was though, I still felt pretty fortunate. I, thankfully, was traveling with Andrea who was willing to help me with money until I could figure out how to get money. Another overnight bus and we arrive to a town called maracaibo which is still like 2 hours from the border of Colombia. We are waiting for the cheapest options so we have a car that will take us but they have to wait for 3 more people. The cars in this particular part of the world are funny, they're all 70's maybe early 80's american big Caprice's or something large & really ghetto. For instance my driver didn't use a key to start the car, he had it rigged up with some wires below. Entire inside torn to pieces, windows don't roll up. The funny thing was there were a million of these same, old, horrible, hoopty, almost non-driveable cars. It was like a junkyard from the states make to somehow work again. Two hours later, penniless in bolivares, we make it to Colombia with no more crackers, money, nada. But I have some pesos from colombia so we're able to get yet another bus for another 4 hour ride to Santa Marta from which we made it to the beach town of Taganga. So thankful to arrive, lay in my hammock, pay 10 dollars or less for the room with an ocean few & just decompress from the madness of the past 4 days. Taganga was planned on my travel route as a destination to take scuba courses as they're some of the cheapest courses in the world. However, getting cash isn't something I can do easily so at the beginning I just enjoy some slow days around here trying to figure out ways to get money or transfer money electronically to Andrea which to do so to foreign nations presents a bigger hurdle. We manage to figure that out, she loans me money as I transfer it online & I'm temporarily back in business. Then we start our dive course. We've now done 6 dives in 3 days, as deep as 90ft which I'm told by another experienced diver was a little dangerous since we didn't know what we're doing and my equipment failed me so I had no air & had to share my way up. It was a bit scary really & my instructors didn't believe me that my equipment was a problem and I didn't have all the underwater hand signals down enough to communicate as you can't talk that entire time. I eventually ran out of air, much much quicker than anyone else and finally I got a breathable mouth piece connected to my guides tank. In the end seeing the underwater world was cool experience & I'm glad I finally got to give it a try. With all the ups & downs, the ups still far outweigh the downs and I'm very thankful to still be on this amazing adventure learning a language, cultures & more about myself. And though Venezuela wasn't great, I did have one magic moment when a guy jumped on a bus to sell something that actually caught my interest - a natural remedy to dissolve kidney stones that comes with ingredients translated to english "Cat's Claw" or "lions tooth" but so far it seems to be stirring something up in me so maybe it will all have been worth it as this fixes my ever nagging problem. Saludos!

Monday, November 23, 2009


Hola amigos! back at it on the blog action & I've been at it in full pace for some adventure action. Colombia has so many adventure activities, really as much as one can handle. There is amazons, Andes mountains, volcanoes, Caribbean coast. I have yet to make it very far, I have been in a town called San Gil and haven't been able to get myself to leave. Here the options seem endless. The first big blast I did (on the 21st of Nov) here was a day of white water rafting on what the rafting people classify as "class 5+". What does that really mean? The classes in rafting don't really mean much to me, all I know was that it had some exhilarating rapid sections that were crazier than any previous rafting sections I have done. The last section of the rapids, we hit a huge 3 meter wave and survived through it but then spun around and the next wave which wiped our entire boat out....except for the guide who managed to jump in the boat and hold on. I went under and it seemed like I was down for quite a while, long enough that I had to think about holding my breath and being spun around under water in rough rapids is a little different than the surf. It seemed like their was no buoyancy but eventually I popped up and a kayak was on his way for me to grab a hold & ride out the rapids in the water. I get back to the boat and my new friend, Julienne, is back on and her finger is bent the wrong way in what we think is a dislocation so I get the pleasure of trying to straighten back. I tried & tried but it kept popping back to a malformed state. In the end it turned out that I was yanking on a broken finger, not a dislocated one. Another guy gets back to the raft & he has a bloody nose & teeth. The rest of us were fine. All in and all everyone was still pretty excited about the entire trip, injuries and all. So after that day, the following day I went caving. Three guys & I head up to the this town & go exploring this cavern that ends up being about 80 meters below the surface. There are bats, stalactites, stalagmites and then in the very bottom there is a 5meter high platform where you jump into pitch black water that you can't see. It was really fun. After the cave we went to the central park of this small town to wait for a bus to get us back to San Gil. School was just letting out & the kids started to stand at a distance and stare at us like we were strange aliens. They slowly moved closer & closer to listen to our English. I was the only one who spoke some spanish so I started asking questions & the next thing you know about 30 to 40 of them had the tightest circle around us asking questions, laughing and just staring. It was really fun, quite strange but fun. I spent about 30 mins talking with all the kids, it was pretty fun. The next day a friend & I went on a little journey to track down some natural slides, pools and mini water falls. The spot is called Pescaderito (the 23rd) and it turned out to be a very chill, quite natural spot. I swam, dove, flipped & relaxed my way in the blazing hot sun. The following day, I still couldn't peel myself away from this area, and we went to hike & search for a waterfall spot. This time we found a bigger waterfall, 5 meters high, that had a perfect set up for some jumping & swimming. The next day I decided to sign up to learn something new, I had seen these safety kayakers when we rafted & I have seen them before and though it looked fun so I signed up for a course. I had my own guide the last 2 days and learned to eskimo roll, ride some small waves, approach some currents and do some little tricks. These are the small kayaks that you sit down in and get strapped in at the waist. They're quite lose, probably a similar feeling to when you first sit on a surfboard, I was all over the place and flipping way to quickly. Which meant I had to learn the eskimo roll quickly & I did learn it but it was pretty scary being stuck upside down a few times. After the second day I got a bit better, approached some bigger sections of the river & flipped my way out of disaster a few more times. It was good fun and now I'm really sore. I decided to take the day off today and I think I'm finally going to make my way to Venezuela tomorrow which means I have yet to make it to the Caribbean for my scuba course I want to get into. I'm meeting a friend in Venezuela and then we will travel back up into Colombia. Then I really need to get back to Peru for my car & figure out what I'm doing with myself next. It's been an exciting last month with sand boarding, rock climbing, treking, amazon action, rafting, kayaking, it seems like a dream really. Well it's time for me to sign off the net. This coming week is a holiday week and I will sorely miss being with my family and friends. I hope everyone has an amazing Thanksgiving!! Saludos

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bienvenidos a Colombia...again

Well here I am again, blogging within a week of the last one. I arrived into Leticia, Colombia after my 40 hour boat ride. I spent a night in Leticia, met some travelers from Sweden & Australia and got talked into walking to Brazil in the rain to go see the discotecs. That was an interesting night filled with men dressed as women and an intro into dealing with Portuguese. It reminds me that if I decide to drive into Brazil that I will be starting over with another language, not so sure about that quite yet as I'm still trying to work on my Spanish. After that night I woke up & decided, well it was decided for me as the hostal was full, that I would go up the Amazon. I was told I could go find a local community and would be welcomed to stay, so long as I brought food. SO I shopped for rice, potatoes, tomatoes, more veggies and even picked up some school supplies. It seemed like I had plenty of food. Little did I know the family I would land with has 7 kids and struggles feeding them on a daily basis. Anyways so I find a boat that will take me a couple of hours up the river & then get dropped off alone. I hike up the muddy bank and find some kids & one of which says that his dad isn't there but they would let me stay with them. The first thing he does as I arrive to their "house" is take my food. I knew they would take the food, the idea was they would take the food & then feed me with them. Now this is a hand made shack & not a craftsman. There is one 10x10 room and come to find out that 10 people live in this room & I'm still not really sure how. The family welcomes me to their house but I feel fairly strange as they're pretty much just staring at me and though I try to engage in conversation, it doesn't go far. I don't think they know how to react to my existence. The little ones are interested but the older ones not so much. I try speaking to the grandma but she doesn't even respond, to which I find out later she doesn't speak spanish just a local dialect. Later that day their dad comes home & he's really nice and actually engages me in conversation. He takes me around the town, tells me how part of the land collapsed into the river and they lost their homes and a few people died. So now they have rebuilt homes away from the river. And then back to the casa where I hang out & set up my hammock outside in their "living room" where I will be sleeping. It's time for dinner, they build a fire and begin to cook & I just kind of sit back and watch. We all eat a bowl of white rice for dinner. I feel bad for eating, they seem so starved, and I feel bad in general like I'm this rich white gringo rubbing it in by being's hard to explain. I guess when I show up with 2 backpacks and it seems like I have more stuff than all 10 of them have in their house it makes you feel bad. Over the 3 days they were there, they hardly fed me. I never saw the food I brought, I got a bowl of rice the first night & a bowl of rice and potatoes the second day for lunch. They ate but certainly weren't concerned with me eating and at the same time I couldn't really care. I had a few snacks in my bag and even a snickers bar but I couldn't dare pull it out, I didn't have enough to share and I certainly would have felt bad. My appetite has been huge lately anyway so a good time to taper it back a bit, something I'm all familiar with from my old wrestling days. Now you think having 7 kids crammed into a room that they'd be fighting all the time, I know my brothers & I scraped plenty in our "small" townhouse, but that wasn't the case at all. The 9 yr old girl watched the baby and her 8 yr old brother helped. The teenage kids cooked the meals, dad was working in the jungle looking for fruits and such and the mom & Grandma hacked down some palm leaves to begin separating them into fibers so they could make necklaces, purses & such. The work the ladies put into making just a bracelet was insane to see, so much labor for one little item that they would in turn sell for 50 cents. There was never a cry or a fight from any kid, other than the baby. I slept on my hammock with a mosquito net while the 10 of them slept in the room, somehow. It was a very interesting experience but by day 3 and no food for me I was ready to leave. I decided to catch up a boat upriver more to another town, one that is a little bigger and has a few hotel like places & a couple of restaurants so I could control my own food destiny. This town is called Puerto Narino, it's a very cool eco friendly village. They happen to be having a day of sports, a decathalon of sorts. With all these kids competing in soccer, volleyball & basketball (which was funny to watch). This was all normal, they were solid soccer players at all ages and not so good at basketball. Then later on in the evening they, of course, had blowdart competitions. I watched 10 yr old girls compete with hand made jungle blow guns shot their hand made darts from nearly half court into a target. They were really good at it too. The next morning I rented a canoe & paddled myself up the Amazon which proved to be really tough as I was heading up current. This didn't last long though I did spot some girl wildlife along the way. After that I caught a boat back to Leticia which is where I am now. I fly from here to Bogota that I think about it flying to Bogota, Colombia on Friday the 13th doesn't sound like the brightest idea. It was really good to have someone from home to share the crazy experiences that come about on this trip and I'm still having them. Off to surely have more as I navigate Colombia over towards the Caribbean coast.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

planes, trains, automobiles...canoes and boats

Have you ever sat or laid in a hammock for 40 hours straight?? That is what I just did to get from Peru to Colombia via the amazon river. It might sound relaxing and granted it wasnt stressful but after a while being crammed like sardines with a million local people on their hammocks swinging into mine, I just wanted to get out and exercise or move or something. But as I was told a million times, I had to keep an eye on my things so I didnt really want to go do a titanic flight on the bow of the boat or anything. Right now I am typing this and every letter I type my body reacts like I stair Ive climbed, its 1 billion degrees and I´m sweating like nobody´s business. So since the last bloggio, I had my first visitor from home and who else would pull it off but my adventurous MOM!! We have traveled a bunch in the past and are good travel partners, easy going and low maintenance but this one started off a little slower. First off, mom picked up a cold-flu or something and then I got hit with my kidney stone probs (boo, old story). Add my pain to not being used to traveling "like a tourist" and head with an english speaker to the most touristy place in south america...Cusco. Cusco also brought some altitude sickness our way so along with suffering from other ailments, we were hit with headaches and tiredness. I also was a little snappy because Ive been training to travel "like a local" and not be treated or act like a tourist that doesnt know whats going on and then I started off putting an unrealistic expectation on mom to just be the same as me, which wasnt fair. It was actually a good thing for me to let go and enjoy the gringo trail for a change. It made me look at myself and check my ego. So after a couple of slow days and early nights to bed in Cusco, we started our trek to Machu Picchu. Day one consisted of mountain biking, all down hill, for 4 or 5 hours on constant switch backs that reminded me of the tour de france. It was really fun. At the end of this day we lucked into a "free" couple of hours of white water rafting on classIII/IV river called Rio Urumbamba. The white water rafting was so much fun, constant excitement and the guides were trying to make it fun. They are not worried about insurance liabilities or lawsuits, they are trying to get us out of the boat and tip the boat. Day 2 consisted of us treking on an Inka Messenger trail that huggled along the river with amazing views, tricky steps and lots of heat in the highlands jungle. We even got to cross the river on a cable car which was pretty cool & then we ended the day in some very nice natural hot springs. Day 3 we hiked along railroad track and that is when my kidney stone decided to paralyze me. I wasnt sure if I was going to make it or not but in the end I pushed through, at my own slow pace, and survived in hopes of being good for our day 4, Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu day started at 4am hiking up 1800 stairs, not an easy task really. Then we did our tour around the city and chose to do another sketchy tough climb up a peak called WaynaPicchu. This climb is straight vertical, consists of ropes/cables to help you not fall to your eminate death and even a climb through a cave to get to the top so you get an amazing view of the lost incan city. All in all a pretty amazing trip for us. That night we took the train back to Ollaytatambo and then took a crazy ´collectivo´ back to cusco which got us there late at night only to get up for our early flight the next day. We got to Lima and werent able to get on the flight to the amazon so we spent a day in Lima, sleeping thru the night at 5pm again, and then the next day off to Iquitos. We land in Iquitos in the jungle and the very first distinction is the insane HEAT. It´s like 95 degrees and humido! The sweat begins (and still hasnt stopped). We then land ourselves on a trip 240km downriver to a lodge starting the next day. We have our own guide and have lots of things they say we can see and do there. Our guide is a guy born in the jungle and he is a legit man vs wild guy. He climbed a tree for a sloth so we could hold him, jumped in the water for a caiman for us to hold, cut trees that had the freshest coolest water to drink from its branches and knew every sound and deadly creature to warn us about along the hikes, canoe paddles & boat rides. The one thing I really wanted to see was these alleged pink dolphins. Louis made sure we found them, knew how to lure them towards our boat by playing a game with them and I even managed to snap a few photos. Mom & I swam in the amazon with pink river dolphins, pricess part 1. We went out on adventures a few times a day, saw eagles, hawks, monkeys, toucans, woodpeckers and a billion other birds. Then he took us fishing on this little lagoon. We had our wooden sticks with a string and hook and some chicken meat. The piranhas were biting like crazy. Mom and I both caught about 4 piranhas each within the hour or so, even tossing back some little ones. The piranhas are just as aggressive as you think, they are snapping there teeth at you as you try to get your hook out. We caught them, kept them, fried them, ate them and then kept there teeth as souvenirs, owned!...priceless part 2. So because I am always looking for any solution for my ever nagging, coming and going kidney pains I decided to ask these people about any local natural medicines. So they say sure, there is a Shaman who knows many natural remedies from the jungle and so I say bring him on. The last night, this crazy Shaman arrives to give me a "cleansing". We are going to drink Ayahuasca which I have some sort of idea what might happen, you are going to clean out your body, possibly vomit, and then feel million times better the next day. Uh huh, right. So the ceremony begins with him whistling and then singing in local dialect and some spanish and then we take a shot of some bitter liquid. He is smoking hand rolled tobacco cigs, I am already doubtful of the entire thing but when in rome.... So its dark, I feel nothing other than my seat is shaking because we are on an elevated platform and he is dancing his feet to his whistle. Then the vomiting begins and more and more. And then the hallucinations begin and they are unwelcomed. I´m spinning like I´m on that ride in Kings Dominion (VA people know) that you spin and you stuck to the wall except this ride never ends and I just keep vomitting and when Im not vomiting, I am tripping like someone slipped me an overdose amount of LSD. I mean crazy visions, scary visions (no thanks to the book I happen to be reading), each ex girlfriend from my life flying at me, I am told some evil spirits by this loco shaman and all I keep thinking is, I PAID FOR THIS? Then the other thoughts I keep having is, I want to get up and go to my room but though my mind is going crazy, my body is a limp noodle. At this point I feel like the shaman is a demon and I want to get away but cant. And so eventually I get the attention of a guide who isnt doing this crazy drug and he drags me to my room and I spend the night awake staring into what I thought was outer space, aka my ceiling. And so do I feel great the next day you ask? uhm NO, I feel the opposite of great for the next 2 days...exhausted, weak, slightly still hallucinating and still wondering why anyone would ever suggest that as a "healthly cleansing". So yea, that was an experience I wont be doing again. Are my kidney stones gone you ask, I dont know but I dont that had anything to do with my kidney stones and more to do with my "evil spirits." So anyways, that was that and the next day we returned to Iquitos and got to visit a crazy local market which had unheard of things going on from a US standard which was the last crazy experience for mom before she flew back to Lima and then the states. It was really good for me to have someone with me from home, especially my mom. I hope someone else makes it for a visit!!! Now I am in Colombia and I am trying to figure out what else I can do in the Jungle before heading towards the caribean coast. Hope all is well on the homefront, stay away from Ayahuasca! Saludos!!! (pictures later when I have internet with my laptop)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Border Patrol

Hola my people. Hope this blog finds you all happy & healthy. As always, I have had quite a few adventures since the last blog. I made my way back up to Northern Peru where I left my car and had one big task to handle before heading south again. That dreadful task was to cross the border into Ecuador and (hopefully) renew my temporary car permission into Peru. Why? because with my upcoming plans it was necessary to have more time. So I got back to my temporary home in Lobitos and hit the road up north for Mancora. My friend in Lobitos was also in need of a renewed passport stamp so she came along & then also a new friend I made from Austria decided she would come up to Mancora and meet up with me as well. She had plans to go into Ecuador. SO the 3 of us spent a night in Mancora and then decided to make our way to the lonely planet labeled ¨worst border in south america´and why not show up mid day on a Saturday right? So first thing that happens is the road forks and I follow the motorcycle in front of me which stays to the left and leads me directly into oncoming traffic which was fun. Crisis averted and find a cut across the dirt to my side and continue on. THe girls have no clue what its like doing this in a car rather than on the bus. Next we arrive to the border and its absolute madness, with millions of people all trying to get my attention, markets and people walking everywhere making it hard to pass. We manage to get out of Peru, ourselves, but some guy hassling me about my car in street clothes I chose to ignore and continue on. THen I make it to Ecuador side, enter the country, exit the country and chose not to enter my car technically. So as we leave, the road has a median wall and I realize I cant drive forward because my car and us are actually not in the country. So what do I do, I see a gap a hundreds back and reverse outta ecuador and flip a u turn. Ofcourse with oncoming cars honking the entire time. Good fun. Now I cross the bridge, stop by aduanas which is who does the car things and they are furious at me. They start accusing me of being a drug trafficker and say I have already crossed into ecuador before they could look at my car and now I´m ¨frito´(fried). Over the course of the next 45 mins I am told I am frito over and over and that I am not allowed back in peru and that everyone is always innocent etc etc. Power trip for the customs agent. The girls are forced outside, I get the pleasure of arguiing inside for a very long time. Many words exchange, much discussion about the drugs i have left n Ecuador and somehow I manage to get the guy to relax and believe me...that and 10 soles helped as well which is like 3 dollars. FINALLY, after some worrying on my side that I wasnt getting my car back into Peru, they finally let me reenter. It was quite a nightmare but in the end I guess its all part of the experience. So we returned for anther night in the touristy twn of Mancora and then my austrian friend Andrea and I hopped a bus for Lima....a 17hour bus ride. Yea, I left my car in Lobitos again. We got to Lima and took another bus south to Hauncachina so I could get into some snowboarding. This very small town is surrounded by massive dunes so I spent the day today climbing up, which is extremely hard, and getting some time riding down. It was a bit like snowboarding and really fun. Tomorrow I hit some local wineries & then part ways with my travel partner to head back up to Lima to meet up with my next partner, MY MOM! Exciting. She gets in tomorrow night and then we are flying up to Cusco to acclimatize and get ready for our mountain bike and treking to arrive to the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu. good fun! I have gotta run. Hope all is well on the homefront. Saludos!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Solitude in the mountains

Hola people who still read this. This blog has been going on so long that it seems like I shouldn't keep writing, it's almost like this isn't a 'trip' anymore but just my life. So I made my way up to Huaraz here in Peru which is up in the mountains in a range of mountains called the Cordillera Blanca. This area is home to some amazing treking and there are loads of crazy people doing long mountaineering excursions on the glaciers and massively high peaks. I, on the other hand, did not want to mountaineer but went up there to give some rock climbing a go. So I arrived and the first day I went on a couple hour hike and ended up running into the strangest fiesta in the hills outside of town. There were guys in crazy masks, a band, local indian people and everyone was dancing. The guys in the masks were drunk, being crazy and it was like some alien world for me. They, of course, looked at me like an alien & I drew some attention from the drunken masked guys who came over to try to talk to me and....ask me for money! I took some photos & video and then the rain came so I bailed. The next day I finally got to go out & rock climb. It was my first time doing this and it was challenging & fun. I really like how you have to use your brain to figure out your route. I really want to do more of it. That night I met some more travelers in my hostal and one girl had signed up for a trek so I ended up signing onto the same one as it coincided perfectly with my travel plans. We would squeeze a 4 day trek into 3 days and get back to town hours before my overnight bus was leaving. So the next morning we were picked up at 6am and off on a few hour bus ride into the mountains to begin. I wasn't really prepared to go treking, I don't qiute have the gear but I figured I'd be okay. It turned out to be me & 3 girls on the trek together - one from Austria, one from England & one from the USA. We spent 3 days treking somewhere around 45 kilometers up to a glacier (first time for me) and even heard loud booming cracks until a slight avalanche came down. The scenery was amazing, especially as we got to the top at 4700 meters. Sweeping views of massive snow peaks and amazing remote solitude. Our group had fun making up games and Andrea, from Austria, kept with me the entire time so we pushed each other to make it through the tough climbs throughout the day. We had a 430 am start yesterday and hiked to our highest point & then down for hours on end only to end the 8 hour day with a steep hour long climb. Then our transportation never showed up so we had to take a local bus. I already had my bus ticket to travel overnight and time was really close. I was worried I wasn't going to get home to shower before leaving, which I desperately needed but those worries subsided quickly as I looked over the cliffside to my imminent death thru each hairpin on this crazy bus. We stopped for a bathroom break on the bus, me & 20 local men & women jumped out and claimed our territory in a funny fashion. We got back to Hauraz with just enough time to take a freezing cold shower & jump on the overnight bus. Now I am in Trujillo on my way back up north to my car. From there my plans continue to be tight for a change, no more just cruising at the moment. My mom comes in a week, i have to pass the border to hopefully obtain a new permission for my car & then head 20 hours south towards Lima. I hope everyone is healthy & happy. Salud

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Change of pace

Hola buen dia! So as always a bunch of time has passed since the last blog. One reason for this is I've been staying in a place that has no electricity or water, much less internet access. So I left Lima on my last blog and I decided to head up north towards Lobitos/Mancora area. This particular area I missed on my way down and the family I met in Lima said I could stay in their house up there and there are supposed to be good waves. So I drove and drove and drove and got stopped by police after police all telling me I needed something and trying to get money. I did spent a few days in various towns & even spent a day hiking to some old pyramids which was pretty cool (well really HOT actually). Eventually I landed in Los Organos where this amazing house they own is and all I had to pay was for water to be brought & electricity. The only problem with this spot was there weren't any waves nor people so I would be hanging out in this lovely tahitian style house with a nice view solo and no surf nearby. So I spent one night there and decided to drive 30 mins north to Lobitos to check the surf. This area is really small and remote, all dirt roads leading to who knows where but I managed to navigate my way there. As soon as I drove into 'town' I drove right past a friend I had made 7 months earlier in Nicaragua. She was riding her bike & I passed her and we both couldn't believe it. Anyways she works for this local voluntoursim organization that works with local kids teaching them life skills, surf & water safety and English. I decided to rent a room in her shared house and stick around for a few days to see what this town was like. The surf in Lobitos is pretty epic really, though the local crowds don't use the world wide known surf "rules" in the water so the lack of respect is something you do have to adjust to. I wasn't really that excited about fighting for waves, I had been solo for a long time and getting aggressive for cold lefts wasn't really in my motivation. So I decided to dedicate my time to a new project that was starting up with my friends Organization. They were just beginning, the day after I arrived, to build a surf shack for the kids. One of the volunteers is an architect so he drew up some plans and they had already bought materials. Being that I could help in translating, as the lead architect has limited spanish, and I could be a helping hand I decided to help out on a daily basis. A lot of manual labor involved, digging holes, carrying cana, carrying rocks and carrying more rocks, sawing, hammering, etc. One day we hired a mule for 50 soles to do 6 trips to this spot we found nice large pieces of rock to be our floor. We found relentless winds on a daily basis and found it really difficult to work with kids in a foreign language when in reality you need skilled labor to build a shack that isn't going to fall over. And the kids weren't that exciting about collecting stones, the one thing they could do. They want to saw, hammer, paint and do all things they can destroy :) Beyond the project the house I have been staying in is very basic....VERY basic. There is no electricity which is alright but there is also a water problem in Lobitos. Meaning they have a busted pipe and water shows up twice a week in a truck to fill up tanks. So for our house one of my chores is to go into a tank in the backyard with buckets to fill and then transfer that into a trashcan inside our bathroom for "showers" and into the kitchen to wash dishes. The "shower" consists of a hanging plastic water bottle with holes on the bottom to act as a you pour water into the bottle and it drizzles out for 30 seconds at best. Challenging at times but for 4 dollars a night and a few of the point from the front porch, it's not that bad. It's been really nice for me to sit still, not spend money on gas or get hassled by police and do something with some meaning with the community. I've been invited into families houses for ceviche and rice and more rice. So after a week or so of working and surfing on the daily, I decided to pick up and go do something away from the beach and away from my car. One thing I learned upon arriving into South America is that it is a HUGE continent and I can't just drift aimlessly like I did in Central Am. I spent 7 months drifting planless through central america so if you look at that size in comparison to South America, I would be drifting for years. I mean, Brazil is basically the size of Australia. So with the LOOooong drives, expensive gas in Peru and wanting a different experience I ditched the car in Lobitos and took an overnight bus to Trujillo which is where I am right now. I'm headed up to Hauraz in the mountains which is supposed to have amazing rock climbing action, something I've always wanted to try. So this bus/back packer thing is totally new to me & is already bringing on a completely different experience to traveling. SO I am off now, with my heavy packs to go do some site seeing and going on my first 'tour' on this entire trip to pass time until I have another overnight bus to the Cordillera Blanca region! I have some other exciting plans coming in the near future as well but I'll wait for them to pass and blog about them. Hope everyone is doing well!!!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mucho Mejor

Buenas So I'm back to the trip. My last blog I was just returning to Peru from the states which was indeed an interesting transition. I had to get my senses aware and focus on my Spanish. Right away at the airport I start dealing with people trying to sway me to go to one hostel or another and of course saying some are closed or whatever. It's always some sort of scam, so it seems. Anyways a day into the return and I woke up from a long night of sleep with a sore throat. I ate a little breakfast, was thinking of getting out to do something but decided to lay down first and that turned into sleeping another 8 hours after the 9 hours of sleep at night. Woke up freezing cold, though thoroughly bundled up, with a fever, headache so bad it was painful to open my eyes and really tired. I stayed in bed all night in & out of really strange sleep with what seem like hallucinate-like dreaming. The next day I woke up the same, too tired to get out of bed and no energy to go down stairs to make some food. Oh and where was I? I was at a house of a friend who happened to be out of town. It's like a real world house, 10 people from all over the world live there studying at a university. And the ones that were around were up all night with loud music & partying like no tomorrow. I guess everyone thought I was gone because nobody saw me. I was in a room of a guy who was out of town, on an airmattress and not having fun. I guess these are the times when it'd be nice to be home or somewhere where someone might help me out with some soup or something. The second day into this sickness I really started to worry about another case of Meningitis or even Swine Flu. Swine flu info is all over when you're flying. My symptoms did remind me of Meningitis & I started to get a worried but I didn't really have the energy to get out and figure out the hospital thing plus I wanted to see if I could just kick it myself. So I laid around for days. Another thing happened, twice in this week 2 different students from the house got robbed around the corner. The second time was after I was there and I already had my set of spare keys. Well while I was down, the owner of the house changed the outside lock because the girl lost her keys when getting robbed. So when I finally did try to go out to get some orange juice, I didn't even have a key to get out. So basically I was locked in & nobody knew I was there, I was sort of wallowing away in my room. Finally I saw the maid & she helped me with a new key so I could go to the Pharmacy and to the store. I had met this older guy, who is originally from the states but lives here, up in Northern Peru before I left on my trip home & he had said he could help me investigate some things I was thinking about in Lima so I finally called him back. He & his wife came over, picked me up & took me out for some food...their treat. Which was nice, they were helpful and got me my first meal in a few days. They also went into to the place my car was parked and haggled for a lower price, which was funny since it was only 2.50 per day. Oh yea, my car was there intact with everything in it. I was able to get there & see that before I fell down sick for a few days. That was a nice relief, I was a little worried about my car while away. So I finally got up the energy to leave the house, I couldn't take all the crazy loud partying all night and I especially couldn't handle stereotype fitting LOUD annoying Americans in the house. The people from the other countries were telling me they didn't understand, this is something that people abroad tend to say about people from the states - we're really loud. And sure enough there was a guy who was loud day & night. Anyway I got myself up, left the house and went to check into a hostel in MiraFlores until I was fully on my feet. Now I'm back to feeling much much better and finally got myself active again. The couple that I spoke of earlier has a son who surfs so I went exploring with him & his friend and they showed me some pretty solid surf spots. Not the most amazing scenery; the beaches near Miraflores are gloomy, cold, and seemed to be littered with dead seagulls & a few dead seals but the surf was really good & it felt good to do something. It's been nice to have the local family be nice to me, have me over for a couple of meals & to take me around to run some errands I needed to do. They've been really helpful & generous with their time. Now that I'm about back to 110%, it's time for me to get out of the city, get back on the road & continue the journey.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Hola well I´m here in Peru. And I have done a lot of driving. The terrain in Peru changed drastically from any other country. It has miles upon miles upon miles of sand dunes. I mean like hundreds of miles. And there isn't much vegetation. Peru has been a little more difficult for me. It´s not as touristy, at least where I have been, which makes finding something somewhat normal kind of tough. My first full day in Peru, I got searched by the police. And they tossed my car, more so than any other on this trip, and I have no clue what they took but surely something because it was a few of them 'searching' and another guy trying to distract me from watching. Afterwards I made it to a beach near Chiclayo and surfed my first surf in Peru on this trip. I met some guys that were asking me about my truck and they told me where some better surf was so I hit the road for a place called Pacasmayo. I was about to arrive around 430pm, excited to get there in time to surf before sunset when at the exit for PacasMayo I got stopped by police. And of course, for no reason. He starts pulling out some book and telling me I´m missing an insurance for tourists. Nobody has mentioned this at the border, the other police, etc. And surprise surprise, they can take my license and car OR I can pay right there. They wanted 450 soles which is about a couple hundred US dollars. These situations are always tricky because I could pretend not to speak spanish or I try to speak well so they treat me different than a normal tourist so I did that and it didn´t work. Sometimes I just pretend I don't understand anything but then they start writing numbers down which is universal. I argued and in the end, had to give them 50 soles (17ish us dollars) to get my license and papers back. And I missed the surf, it was late. So I started off with a rough day. The next day I got some amazing surf, long lefts reeling across this reef. I surfed it with 3 guys who were on vacation from Florida. I spent the day with them & then I hit the road again to continue south. Another day in the car heading southbound and another encounter with the Police. This time the policeman started off saying I passed in a no passing area but that was a lie. Mind you I was in the middle of miles upon miles of emptiness and sand dunes for as far as the eye can see. The road was so long and straight it appeared like there was water at the end in the distance but it was just more road. I have an attitude of I'm not paying anything this time so I stand my ground tough. The guy circles my car looking at it and starts to tell me I need permission to have my windows tinted. It's the factory tint. I just keep saying "no entiendo" (don't understand) and standing my ground. In the end I got off without paying anything but was a little flustered again. These run ins with the police along with some other travel woes made me tired and really want a break. I took a look at my frequent flyer miles and saw that I could use them to book a rountrip flight from Lima to Norfolk. So after thinking it through, I jumped on it in order to make our family vacation in the outerbanks and I was southbound in a few days to figure out what to do with my car and catch this flight. Arriving in Lima was crazy, as it is going into any foreign city with my big truck. I randomly reconnected via email with a girl I met traveling in Panama a few months back and she's now living in Lima. SO I had a destination, the plan was to stay the night at her shared house (with 10 other students from around the world) and park in a lot behind her house. It all seemed too easy because it was. The lot wouldn't let me leave my car there for 2 weeks which was a bummer because she could see the car in there from her room. So they pointed me towards another place that I showed up to and as always I'm greeted with interesting reactions over the site of my truck. They wanted to hear about it since it has California plates and they wanted my papers to be left with them so I had to fight out of that one. In the end I left it, took my paperwork, gave a little money up front and have to hope that my truck and things are there when I return today. The time away from Latin America allowed me to let some of my travels sink in and reflect on what I've done and how far I've come - distance and personally. It has been strange to be back in our culture and see how much we have at our fingertips. I have missed the Latin culture while I have been in the USA but I do love home and I always will. The south, with my family and friends, is always a place that I love and always feel comfortable here. The weather has been great and the trip was exactly what I needed; a break from the madness of traveling in a foreign nation with a car. The outer banks is still one of my favorite spots and the week we spent down there was amazing for surf and for quality time with the family. It's nice to be reminded of the southern hospitality and friendliness that comes with being here but now I'm ready to get back to my journey. Keep your fingers cross that my car is intact along with my things!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Los Andes

Hola whoever still reads this! Well after a few weeks on the coast of Ecuador i dropped Emily off at the airport, got chased by mangie street dogs on my run in the hot bustling city of Guayaquil & then decided to head to the Andes since there wasnt much swell on the map. Having Emily leave makes the trip different, again. One thing for sure is that I´m going to lose more veggies now. If there is one thing that Emily does not like, is letting food we bought go bad. Logical right? But she sticks to that like a drill seargent, even if it means stuffing me with 10 plaintains a day especially when they´re near rotten and now ´maduros´. Whatever it takes to eat this 70 cents worth of veggies. I am surely giong to sell out more often and lose a few cents worth of veggies here and there. Em has some addictions that I got to know during our few months traveling together. AVENA, heard of it? aka oatmeal. Needs this every morning like Sully needs coffee. It´s funny, unless she didn´t get her avena. Whats not as funny is the addiction to peanut butter. Which only comes on rare occasions if she crosses the line and samples peanut butter when I´m having a pb and banana sandwich. She has the "once it hits your lips its so good" Old School Will Farrel thing. One bite leads to spooning down the rest of the jar. Its like me with chocolate. So it was good having a travel mate and a newbie surfista to watch go thru the stoke, frustration & fear that goes with being in the ocean. It was fun sharing my knowledge of the ocean & the sport.
So after she left I dcided to start driving towards the south east. There is this small remote town in the Andes fairly close to Peru where they say people live to be over 100 yrs old. Vilcabamba!
Getting to Vilcabamba took longer than I thought. It's different navigating alone. Though I didn't get too lost, only lost about 20 mins once, but the roads were winding up high elevations and I definitely miscalculated that. Plus they're still working on some of those roads. The temps dropped down to the 40s from the 80s during this trek. Of course I have on boardies, T and flipflops. Passed through some really cool towns & breathtaking views all along the way. Saw a lot of indigenous people herding sheep or whatever. I arrived late so I ended up at a place that I didn't really like but I was over it to go searching. I did meet a mom and daughter from ecuador who now somehow live in Richmond, VA. Strange and they were nice to talk to and work on my spanish with. I left there the next morning and found something more up my alley. Some cabins that you have to hike up to and you listen to a river running. I spent the day hiking into this park. I made it to a waterfall and on my return I ran into a big group of local kids on a hike. So I spent the next hour walking with them, having a bunch of 10 yr olds push and shove (almost off the cliff) to talk to me. It was a good test for my spanish. Funny thing is they ended up talking a bunch about Michael Jackson and singing Thriller along the way. Good times for me in the mountains for sure.
Today I left Ecuador and headed for Peru. The drive was way longer than I anticipated passing through mountain pass after mountain pass. One painful lesson I learned is up in these parts, gas stations are closed on Sundays. And because gas is so cheap in Ecuador, I planned on filling up my tank & my spare, which I had just used for this purpose, before getting into Peru. Gas in Ecuador is 1.48 per gallon, about half the price of everywhere else. I made it to the border, decided to pass since this border was the easiest one I've done yet. I guess because it's a small one in the mountains, their aren't many people hassling. The down side, is there weren't money changers hassling me either. They are usually a rip off but it's good to get some local dollars...especially when you need gas. Sure enough I drove and drove with no ATm to be found. I then came upon a toll both and I have no loot, I was worried but got lucky they weren't charging for my direction. Then an hour later, still no atm, another toll booth but I got lucky again. So now I'm in peru, found a hotel and going to regroup at daylight. Definitely been missing my friends & family!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ceviche heaven

Well here I am again, sitting at a computer with a loss of what to blog about. I always think of some thing to write in my blog but I'm never near the net. Internet has been a little tougher to come by here in Ecuador. At my last blog, I think, I was still fighting my car out of the port and into Ecuador. That proved to really test my patience and push my Spanish. I am thankful for my time spent with Ricardo and him training me how to interact in Spanish more like the way they do it. It's not so eloquent but it's direct and to the point. Everything is direct and open here and in all the Latin countries. The communication is different, people don't get offended at small things. If someone wants to strip their child down right next to you, at a restaurant and wash them by pouring water on their head then they will do it and nobody will care. Everything is direct and there aren't any hidden messages. If you want your bill or a refill, you get up and tell someone and they don't get mad. And if you want to get anything done at the port, you have to push your way through many windows with a bunch of other people doing the same & get your stuff looked at and dealt with. if you think there is a line, you will be waiting all year. This training with Ricardo definitely pushed me through on getting through the nightmare of a process to get my car but I finally got it and immediately hit the road. Unfortunately the last day I didn't actually get my car until 8pm which meant I was already breaking one cardinal rule of the trip, don't drive in foreign lands that you're completely unfamiliar with after dark. However my options were limited and I chose to shoot the 3 hour drive to the beach town Mantanita rather than spend one more hot and noisy night in the port town of Guayaquil. Driving at night here is dark, no street lights and I am not sure where I'm going so I do what I have done at least 10 thousand times on this trip, I start asking directions. Yet again I'm aware of my surroundings and looking for the worst thing to happen to me as I pass through a small town and the people are all walking on the streets because not many cars really pass through, especially at night. So I am forced to slow down and endure all the stairs because as has been amused a lot on this trip, seeing me is like them seeing a UFO. I ask someone how to get out of this town and on my way to where I'm going and sure enough some guy on a motorbike offers to drive in front and have me follow him. This has happened to me so many times on this trip. It reminded me of being in Panama City when I was searching either for an office or police station or hotel and more than once after driving up next to a car in the city, waiving my hand to have them roll down their window and asking for directions and they offer to just drive me there because explaining how to get this is harder. And these are never just a couple blocks away, I'm talking all the way across the city. I had one guy drive up next to me after he saw me asking another guy and he asked what I was looking for so I told him and he drove us there, to the police station and even got out to tell me to be safe because this particular part of town was dangerous, called the red district. After these things happen, I always sit back and wonder what would happen in New York city if you waived at someone in another car and tried to get directions from them? I always think about blogging something but it's hard to say what to write. I've just searched just about all of the pacific coast for waves, driving on beaches and off road a bit. I could focus on that in a blog. Or focus on that I've probably cooked at least my 200th meal out of the back of my car this year which isn't an easy way to live but it works. Or that my skills with a coconut have improved, I open, drink & eat them quite often. I could write a delicious blog describing every incredible bowl of fresh ceviche I've eaten here in Ecuador. But what always seems to be missing from my blog, that which seems tough to relay, is all the sites of people & towns I pass through. I'm fairly sure this is how UFO sightings get posted, someone like me flies through a town where the kids are working hard with a machete & farming tools at say, 6 years old, and everyone is awestruck just stares with jaws open at the truck & me while I pass thru. I have passed through a good deal of Ecuador in search for surf which has been hit & miss. The sites are still amazing though. I still come across people bathing themselves & their clothes in rivers. Millions of shacks hand made from bamboo or something similar. I'm still avoiding hitting dogs, pigs, goats, horses, cows, and many many people on bikes on the roads. Everyone, every age rides a bike and usually the bike is too big or too small. And there is hardly ever just one person on the bike, a family of 3 or 4 will ride down the road on a bike. And in between all of these views of the local people, and the conversations I try to have to get directions, find bakery's, or anywhere else I might be looking for, I am in the water surfing. After spending my last blog talking about how I can't meet other travelers abroad my faith in there being some other nice people abroad was restored. After an argument over price in a hostal in montanita, one that I was thankful Emily had to handle for a change, we bolted out of there in a hurry. Instead of packing up my truck and reorganizing as I had intended, we split paying less than the guy all of a sudden wanted from us, and I drove a bit and then turned down a beach road to regroup. Up walks a couple, a guy and a girl with a surfboard and surely not from Ecuador. They had seen my truck, as is the case with everyone, and starting asking about what I was doing there with a California plated vehicle. One thing led to another and we hung out at their house for a few nights, 'camping' in the truck. Tom & Shannon are down in Ecuador from California. It was really refreshing to meet some genuinely nice people for a change. After a couple of days together exploring the area for surf, I invited them to go on a little journey with us. They jumped in and we were off. They got to see first hand how fun it can be in a car but also how not easy it is with a car. Searching for places to sleep that are safe and have safe parking. Being lost constantly. I have basically been lost for 7 months. Asking for directions a million times to get anywhere. Being stared at all day. It's fun, it's frustrating, it's exciting, it is still an adventure. 5 or 6 days with those guys & it was time for them to head back to their current house down south so they split on the bus. It was a good experience after I had so many not so good experiences with travelers abroad. Now it's down to myself & Emily. Emily has been traveling with me for a couple of months and now her time is coming to an end as well. She is done with this leg of the journey in 5 days and then it will be down to just me. It's been amazing to have a woman's touch to my casita & to improve the health of my eating, let alone a companion to get through this adventure with. But now this part of the journey will be taking a new turn. So things will change again soon & who knows what effect it will have but the only constant I've had on this trip is....CHANGE.
PS: missing the birth of my brothers baby & Justin's baby definitely makes me miss home. I think and talk about you all constantly....surely to the annoyance of others around. Hopefully I'll meet these new additions sooner than later.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Patience is necessary....

Hola my people. As always, I let so much time pass that too many things have happened. Typically so much happens in one day that I think or say "I should blog about this" but then that happens 50 million times before I sit down and write out here. Well in a whirlwind turn of events, I am now writing this from South America. After my time in Mono Feliz, Emily and I hit the road south first for the Azuero peninsula to do what I for more surf. We spent a lot of time alone with the animals of Mono Feliz that I soon realized why I loved that so much. First, beyond local police, customs officials and people in general wanting money from me, all back packers seem to have an alterior motive to talking to me when they realize I have my truck. I am pretty numb to this by now which has unfortunately made me unfriendly and very untalkative. I never talk about my travels or having a vehicle but it inevitibly comes up or is just plainly truck does stick out like a sore thumb. People always see me and think they can hitch a ride to the store, to the surf, out of town, etc. So at this very cool eco lodge in Azuero, I realized that I cant socialize with anyone there because they just leech onto me quickly. One of the beauties about having the car is being able to have food to cook. And their was a communal kitchen at this lodge and rather than giving people rides to the store, which I was asked a bunch of times, we started offering meals for sale that emily was cooking. First it started out with a few for breakfast and then it quickly turned into big dinners serving 7ish people. Worked out nicely for us, it basically paid for the trip out there. To get away from everyone, we split in the car to go explore for waves. We drove and drove offroad, enjoying the truck as always, and saw massive waves breaking over reef so we stopped and walked the beach to check out it. There was NOBODY around until on our return someone came down the beach saying "is that jesse" and it was a guy I met a few weeks earlier that is driving to south america and we had discussed sharing a container to save money since you cant drive through the darien gap. One thing led to another and I jumped on the opportunity and the following day we were headed to panama city to start sorting it all out. The process has been numbing, disorganized, senseless, time consuming and really a test of my patience. First off, dealing with a 3rd person comes at a price and he quickly jumped on my coat tail to lead him thru it all since my spanish is better. A nightmare day in the ghetto of panama getting the police to inspect the cars, a weekend in the city and a nightmare of a day in the slums of Colon to get the cars exited from panama and into a container. The days were FULL days of frustration, spanish improvement, and patience dealing with everyone. The following day, we hopped a flight to Columbia. I decided against shipping the car to Columbia and went straight for Ecuador and because of wanting to see the country and having a week to pass before the car arrived in Ecuador we split for Columbia. Landing in Columbia was a stark contrast from what was in Panama. The people were rich, trendy, good looking with plastic surgery contendable with Orange County. Columbia turned out to be really clean, good streets, cheap, loads of great fresh fruit from street vendors and plenty of great sights. After a 17 hour day on the bus to get to Quito Ecuador I quickly realized I miss my truck and dont think Im much of a backpacker bus taker. I also soon realized I really love traveling at the beach and the cities are cool for a minute but not much longer. So the flights were dirt cheap from quito to guayaquil and time was running out so we opted out of the 12 hour bus trip and took the 45 min flight down. I had some notion that I would be driving my car out of the port on Monday, since the boat had arrived, but that dream has been crushed for 2 days now. This process is crazy beyond belief and I have to pull all the wait and keep things together as my co-container bud spins out of control time and time again, annoying officials in the process. 8 hours at the port today and we were denied, told to return tomorrow. Emily couldnt stand wasting another day away from the beach and staying in hot dirty loud quayaquil so she split on a bus. I am close to at the end of my rope and hope that tomorrow I can get my spanish understanding and communications across to get everything else we need done, done, so that I can get in my car, drive to the coast and go wash the filth of this process, shady people, dirty ports and annoying people off me in the pacific ocean of Ecuador. The ocean is my therapy and I really cant wait for my next session. Hope everyone is happy and healthy at home. Miss, talk and think about you all the time. salud

Monday, July 6, 2009

Coco Loco

Buen Dia familia y amigos! Well it's been a while since I've last written in this thing but it hasn't been because I'm putting it off or anything, it's because of the last 30ish days I've been without electricity for about 25 of those days. We decided after seeing some beaches and some 'normal' spots on the travelers path here in panama that we just loved mono feliz & would go back there & explore more around that remote jungle on the beach area. We negotiated our way into a cabina this time, no more camping! The cabina is similar to camping but much better with all the rain & really nice to have a porch to relax & read on, daily. Having no electricity was something we hardly realized, you just wake up with the sun, go to bed at night & we're out and about all day. Maybe the only time we even thought about electricity, was the nightly cold shower. But really it's a nice way to live but does prove challenging when you have no chilling element to your food. We built ourselves an outdoor kitchen area which made for some amazing camping food, regardless of having nothing that could be refridgerated. The food is something we really focused on & it turned out to be pretty amazing meals. We lucked out on getting some fresh caught fish a few times, Emily made homemade dough & I tossed a pizza that was cooked over a fire, we have the most amazing fruits & fresh veggies and these meals were better than I would eat out of a real kitchen. Our pizza's over a fire turned out to be amazing & spurred a lot of talk of opening a pizza place in Costa Rica. Anyways dreams aside and food aside ( you can tell I'm hungry while writing this) we had some adventures, as always. The first adventure was arriving back to Mono Feliz, the tide was low but rising and we were trying to get all the food/etc done and get back out there and we pushed the LIMIT on this low tide drive. The tide had risen a bit too much, we were long on the beach driving when we realized it was maybe too late but there's no turning back. In some scary river mouth passes on the beach I had to drive in a few feet of ocean water, really tense moments thinking my car my get stuck or might not pass and then what? The tide's just rising more and the beach is about to disappear. It's not fun to drive your vehicle in the ocean but 'trust the truck' made it, again. Then came the extremely deep "puddle's" after the beach section which get deeper & deeper as rainy season pours. These are about bottom of the door deep but you don't know until you're in it, scary again. My truck has survived a lot of abuse to arrive at mono feliz, its a beating on her. So coco loco comes from a scary moment. Another lovely day and we're sitting on the porch in our chairs, emily is eating a coconut that I've just drank & opened. It's one of those amazing days instantly turned into a nightmare. I hear a scream & look over and emily has a volcanic-like eruption of blood coming from her hand & panic sets in on here. These coconuts are really hard to get out of the shell & on one side they also have a little hole where you drink from. Well she was using a skinny knife I have (had) and it stabbed right through the coconut, into the front of her hand & out of the back of her hand! I popped up, tried to calm her down & had her put pressure on it while I looked for my first aid stuff. She immediately went into shock, which I really didn't know what to do and that spurs another thing I want to learn - better first aid skills. She lost a HUGE amount of blood and then started sweating profusely and then got really white, I mean ghostly white. Her face was white, lips were white & she was passing out which all looked really scary. I didn't really know what to do, I kept talking to her and trying to keep her awake & and all but I couldn't. The scary reality set in that we are so far off the beaten path that there is no help or hospital near by. To make things worse, it's late in the afternoon and the tide is too high to drive out so I know we're stuck for atleast 12 hours until the next morning. It was a bit unnerving to realize this but no time to worry, it was time to figure something out. So I ran up and got 'mama-Luz' who is the local lady who has been my pseudo mom; she's helped me with kidney stone remedies, digestion/hiccup problems (another story), rashes and other jungle related problems. In this case I ran to get her, we ran back and when we returned Emily looked dead and mama-Luz freaked out. She grabbed some alcohol and woke Emily up. Then she made some soup & hand feed her and we cleaned her up and she started to come to & be a little better. The next morning we hit the road and went to the hospital, 2 hours away. She was actually really lucky that it was a clean cut and no major damage appears to have been done. So the scare is over & back to our place to try to have relax again. Funny how quickly everything can go from amazing to disaster in an instant. So back to the adventures in punta Barica, we spent one amazing day with Miron (local kid who lives where we're staying) walking to Costa Rica over beach, rocks & slippery reef. We hiked, at low tide, for 2 hours into costa Rica to surf this surf spot called Punta Mangle. It was quite an adventure to get there & pretty cool to hike into another country though at the end of it all the waves weren't that good. But I did get some quality time in with Miron who was teaching me how to get into coconuts much easier. It took Emily & I about 40 minutes to get into the one we were working on & then he comes up and does it in 2 minutes. Another skill I learned, been learning some good useful skills on this trip with Miron, a kid grown up there living off the land. We ate a lot of coconuts, though emily was banned from doing anything but eating them, and we walked and found mangos, got starfruits, mamon(sp?) and lots of good fresh fruit. Mama-luz would give us avocado's from their tree & lots of little fruits and things here & there. Miron would bring me a fish, cleaned and ready to cook, and generally they were so nice to us. It was really nice to work on spanish & spend time with the true locals to this area. I really connected with them, helped miron with his surfing and spent time getting to know mama-luz. She nearly cried when I left, I think she kissed me 10 times all over my face & made me promise to return & write a letter when I felt better from the kidney ailment. OTher than that I was learning more than opening coconuts, I was having to be creative to do just the most 'normal' thing stateside. I bought some coffee as a gift to send back to the states from Costa Rica but I never got to sending it. And on a rainy day I decided I wanted to drink coffee but it's hole bean and I have no grinder plus is/was a present. But after some brainstorming I decided to break into the stash (sorry sully, will send you something else), dump the beans in a half coconut & smash them with a shell. Fun way to earn my coffee, plus I didn't have a coffee maker so I had to use this 'sock' like filter that mama-Luz had and she said her mom always used it. Just one of the many times of getting creative to get a quick addictive fix! All in all it was an amazing time spent in Mono Feliz, more trips to the island and surfing my wave, exploring other reefs, reading, more reading and loads and loads of amazing food with fresh ingredients. We even had dogs the entire time. Now it's southbound to explore some new areas. Going to hit the road & see if we can find and explore the Azuero Peninsula and then after that leg, probably onto the canal & panama city. Happy 4th of july, we celebrated with what I thought was sparklers but when I lit them turned out to be incense :) Hope everyone is having an amazing summer. Pura vida!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

10,000 miles later & no more training wheels

Buen Dia! It's been a while since I've been on the blog or even on the internet really. I've spent the last 8 days camping in Panama back at the same spot that Ricardo & I first found a few weeks prior. Which means my time in Costa Rica is now over! My temporary permission for my car expired so I left on May 30th. My time in Costa Rica was pretty amazing. I'm definitely going to miss Ricardo, Hannah & Kalani. Staying with them & Ricardo's mom got us all close, I was treated like family. I'm going to miss Ricardo's moms daily lunches. Their main meal of the day is lunch & she makes a full on meal every day along with some fresh fruit drink as well. I became part of a little community there in Costa Rica, started to know some locals & really got to work on my Spanish. My Spanish improved tremendously and it's funny that I've learned Spanish on the streets so my lingo is much more like the locals of Costa than say someone who just studies Spanish in School. It's like they say "hello, how are you today" and I say "What's crackin homeboy" I'm thankful for that time to learn Spanish with Ricardo & his neighborhood friends. I've enjoyed learning this way and now it's time to put my Spanish skills to the test. I've essentially taken off my training wheels because most of this trip I've had a native Spanish speaker with me. I had Ricardo & Fish that entire trek down from the States. Now it was time for me to face a border on my own & figure out how to get around using my newly fresh talking skills. I don't have a map or a plan, so my method is to talk to people. I ask people on the streets for directions & if they know anything about potential surf. I basically can strike up conversation with anyone, even if it's to ask a blind guy walking down the street in the rain for driving directions. Which was funny, I pulled up next to a guy walking with an Umbrella in the rain & slow down and yell "Senor, una pregunta. Para llegar a David" (Sir, a question. How do I get to David) but during the middle of my question he looks over at me and I notice he's completely blind. What do you do? Do you stop your question because not only does he clearly not have a car and drive because he's walking in the rain but he now also is blind to go with it. Or do you keep asking him & potentially offend him by asking a blind guy for driving directions? Well I just asked & guess what, he gave me some really detailed good directions. And like about everyone I've encountered, was really nice & helpful. The people are so approachable & warm when it comes to me asking for help & them seem to respond well to the attempted Spanish. In my last leg of Costa Rica I met a fellow traveler taking surf lessons from Ricardo at La Escuela Del Mundo named Emily. We started surfing together, or I was surfing with their surf classes, and after some time of becoming friends I invited her to travel with me if she so dared. She thought it over, talked with her family which was reluctant as she had some plans to go work in Maine doing some research and in the end she decided to take a chance and go on the adventure with me. So I went from having a tall black Venezuelan Spanish speaker copilot to having a white gringa with similar Spanish skills to me. It draws a new level of attention. In the past seeing Ricardo made people shy away, now it's 2 white folks in a big black American truck. So we left Jaco after her month of surf training was completed & I was due to leave Costa so we went south & spent a night in Dominical & then hit the border crossing to Panama. Thankfully I had been here twice before and was somewhat familiar with the madness that would no doubt occur. I get mobbed as soon as I pull up but now with my rapid fire slang I'm able to say something to all these guys surrounding me that let them know I'm not going to use their assistance. They immediately left me alone. It felt like a good start for me & my spanish. I was told by Aduana's that I could not return for 3 months, they just wanted to be clear. At this point my car was no longer in Costa Rica & we had been stamped and I had some anxiety over getting into Panama & not getting stuck in no-mans land. Through a few dollar bribes to officials in Panama, we get in Panama without a glitch. This made me happy as you never know what's going to happen at these borders. Now that we're through my plan is to attempt to reach the beach & head towards the same place I had before near Puerto Armuelles. This meant all of this border crossing timing was around the tides because we have to drive on the beach during low tide on the reef to reach the place we're going to camp, it's impassable on high time. We drive through a restricted Oil area & then off on the beach for a long run on sand & mainly reef. It's really a crazy drive & rough on the truck. We stop along the way when we're almost to the end, we get off the beach onto a 'road' where there are only cows & horses and mango trees. Emily climbs on the truck and pulls a good 20 mangos off the tree which we use for our daily intake of 2 mangos each per day. We arrive at our location which is a property owned by a gringo guy who lives with a panamanian woman from the area so her kids, nieces, nephews, brothers & sisters are around. They help us work on spanish engaging in many different conversations ranging from surfing to the local people to the United states to fixing my stove. My masterplan, which I never have, was to camp on this spot they have there with small pebbles & the oceanfront view to the island I want to paddle to. There was one problem, when we got to this place there was a guy who was already set up in that camp spot. He is the only other person at this place as it's extremely far & remote but he's a backpacker with a surfboard & he somehow landed there. That sort of deflated some of my excitement because we ended up make shifting another camp site which was on dirt and that only matters because it is now full on RAINY SEASON! So dirt is really mud and it was a dense tropical area so the spot had it's fair share of bugs & things. I wanted to settle in for some quality time in this area to explore around this place. So my plan was for us to stay for as long as we reasonably could. This area is really just magical & I was super excited to get back there. We saw 3 types of monkeys, turtles, other wildlife. We had an exotic island out front to paddle to and have to ourselves. The views were insane, the area was majestic & it was all ours...almost. It's one of those places where I felt like their couldn't be a more beautiful place. And though there was 1 other guy cramping my style, camping in my space, at least he didn't have the adventurous spirit to paddle out to that island and find the wave that I had found the previous time. He had been surfing some other reefs that are right off shore and much smaller. I made the trek to the island and dragged Emily along so she could work on her paddling conditioning. It's a long somewhat eery open water paddle between land & the island. Especially so because the first few minutes we were there Emily found a sharks tooth. Luckily for us the first day the brother of the lady, Luz who's place we were camping on, was going out to the island and picked us up as we paddled a little less than half way. He dropped us off, offered to snorkel and look at the rocks but I told him I had surfed there & it wasn't necessary. Another dream for me, sitting in this lineup & looking at a empty beach lined densely with palm trees. I had brought a bag with bottles of water, fruit & a knife so while Emily didn't yet have to endure the pain of getting in and out of the water on the jagged rocks I got to go in & stash it on the beach & left her to soak up what is actually happening. The waves were small & perfectly glassy & I was yet again overcome by amazement with this find. That day we ended up on the beach after surfing eating our mangos & oranges & drinking our herbalife. A couple of kids, of the guy who drove us in his boat, turned up on the island and hung out with us. It was a good day of practicing spanish for me. They were young & came right up and approached us and offered to help me find some good coconuts. I had a knife & the kid I was talking to was 11 and he wanted my knife to open the coconuts we found. I was hesitant to hand over my knife to a kid but I realized in minute that he knew what he was doing. And more so his older brother, 16, showed up with a machete a little bit later & handed that right over to his kid brother so he could easily hack it open with a drinkable hole & then get the coconut meat out for us. They didn't want any of it, they just wanted to get it for us. There is just a difference in kids that don't have all the luxuries that our kids have these days. They were so engaging & friendly, I mean he fought into that first coconut for a good 15 minutes before the machete turned up. We all laid around under the palms until it was time for them to go, they had been waiting on us but I told them we were going to train & paddle back. Now back to Camping in the rainy season; it poses an entire new element that makes camping less enticing. But the thing I love about camping is that you just do your daily chores, build your home, make your place to eat, dry your clothes, etc. It's really simple but it's rewarding. You constantly try to better your situation by figuring out ways to keep the place dryer or to keep your food secured from bugs to fixing a broken stove. My stove broke and at home after tinkering with it for a short time I would have surely just bought a new one. But here I am in latin America and one thing I've learned is that they don't just buy new anythings without giving it a serious go on fixing it and they end up fixing it. Now I have time and not money, though cooking without a stove leaves us with less options to eat & there is a bit of time pressure because I assured Emily we were going to have a lovely clean campsite & a kitchen-like stove to work with. BUT the other vagabonder was in my site & now my stove wasn't working, right away too. With the help Juancho (the gringo owner) & Miron (Luz's 18 yr old son) we tackled the rusted screws of my old camp stove. The thing is I walked up to the kitchen area & Miron was there & I started to explain I needed tools to try to take apart this stove & he just dove right in, without any hesitation. He started wrestling with my rusted, striped screws and we spent the next 2ish hours until dark (no electricity) taking every piece apart & testing the flow. The problem was my stove had a blockage on it & in the end we sort of ghetto rigged it up to work. Then it broke again and in clearing the blockage I managed to take down the entire piece needed for to compress the gas tank so my next fix included a tiny seashell. The problem we had now with the gas was that it was leaky & flow wasn't controlled and losing gas more quickly is a problem. And speaking of problems, after we camped for a couple of days we had the luxury of not driving which was great but led to my battery dieing. Now mind you we are in a place with no cars, people come by delivering food for Luz via horse. We actually had 2 problems, the first was the keyless entry wasn't working because the battery was dead & my key wouldn't manually open the one door with a key hole. I never use the key and it turns out at some point someone tried to break my lock because it had been dislodged & was loose & the key wouldn't work. So here I am with a hanger trying to unlock my door. I do manage, after repeated failed attempts & a good hour or 2 to get the lock reset into the correct spot & get in with the key. It's a good thing I'm no auto thief, I couldn't get the hanger trick to work for the life of me. The beauty of failed battery was that after my battery problem on my way to Bocas del Toro months back, I managed to buy this portable battery charger/compressor on a trip to San Jose with Ricardo. The problem was that my battery was really dead, enough so that the door wouldn't unlock. But after a half hour of charge & attempts to start, we were back in business. I'm sure by now Emily was doubting her decision to stay - we're camped in a muddy/buggy spot that's soaked, my stove is broke, my car door lock is broke, my battery is dead and I'm sure I'm looking far less enticing than I originally represented. Somehow we pulled through all the problems & even our other backpacker left a few days later without ever coming to the island to find my break. We moved our home, cleaning & airing everything out & we were blessed with a rain free day to do it. We posted up on a bigger, more spacious spot with gravel below instead of dirt & a breeze to die for as I am/was always burning up. It felt like such an upgrade, it was in a way nice to have to experience the less than perfect spot in such a perfect location & then get to 'upgrade'. Bringing a girl, or anyone for that matter, camping in the rain can be a big test but Emily withstood all the bad stuff and still saw only how insanely lucky we were to be in this majestic place. She also eats really healthy & has been enjoying having time to cook so I've been benefiting from this immensely. I've still been battling the kidney stone problem, impassable I suppose, and I've been taking many natural remedies daily from some plant from peru, linaza (linseed), aloe very drink, squeezing lemons into water, herbalife , eating as a vegetarian, & eating an endless array of daily fruits. I feel great beyond the one major problem. It feels good to eat healthy & exercise. At the place we camped in they have monkeys passing through daily. Some of which keep us up at night, those loud howler monkeys, but they have these adorable squirrel monkeys which they say are endangered. We were able to feed these monkeys bananas as they come passing through the area in packs of 50-70. It was surreal, having these monkeys jumping from all directions onto your head and shoulders, being swarmed. This became a daily occurrence when we were around & not off surfing, running, or doing yoga. After days of exploring reefs, paddling out to the island & surfing alone, and soaking up the surreal surroundings we were faced with a decision about leaving or getting more food & returning. Even the shells in this place were amazing, it's like constant sensory overload here. This is a place that made me feel like I couldn't go anywhere and find anything better. That's a bad feeling to get when you're on a journey anticipated to extend our further. It's like, why continue the search when you've found the ultimate place. From a surfer & explorer's perspective, this was the end of the road. After my first visit here & return to Jaco with Ricardo, I was a bit down. I was tired from the trip & unmotivated to surf back there & it just seemed uninteresting after being in this other spot. But this time we did have to contend with the rain however we were fortunate enough to have nice facilities built on the grounds for shower & bathroom which helped keep us clean & happy. But at some point you're ready for a bed & to be out of the rain. So we decided we would leave the following day. Our final full day there, Emily decided to go for a run on the beach but I was still relaxing from surfing so I hung back. Then a bit later, just before sunset, I decided to go run on the beach. It was a nice way to soak in the scenery & let some perspective sink in. I got in the groove, running over reef, rocks & sand and decided to go further than normal. I eventually came to pass another casa looking place & when I ran by a guy came out & flagged me down. He had a bucket full of baby black turtles & said he was about to release them and they are his last batch. It's some volunteer spot for turtles. He asks me if there is anyone else with me at the place I'm at so I tell him that I'm with a girl & she would love to see these too. He asks if I can run back with the box & release them there. He wanted someone to really enjoy it. So I head back, already with a few seashells, with a box of 50ish baby turtles going crazy in this plastic tub. It was about a 20 minute run back, this was the tide they were supposed to be released in. I saw this before when I was here with Ricardo which was a full moon night & we figured out that wasn't a coincidence, that the turtles were being released again a month later. The sunset was amazing, flaming reds & oranges across the sky as you ran up the beach & as I returned we had a full moon rising over deep purples & blues. And in the middle of the sunset & moonrise clashing was my island. I returned to our camp, interrupted emilys ab exercises to surprise her with a bucket of turtles to release. She was over the moon, claromente. We took some pictures, released the turtles & watched them hobble their way to the water & be swept away. The full moon rise was a great final touch to an amazing adventure, the following morning we woke up said our goodbyes to the locals & hit the road err or beach for a drive. Now we've landed in Santa Catalina which is a surfers town far off the map but known to many & it's back to 'reality' of sharing breaks with other surfers and staying in a hotel room with A/C! Sorry this episode was so long, too many things happen in a short time to get by with a short story! Salud